Are Automotive Brakes Getting Smarter?
By Robert Cleve

A number of recent engineering developments in automotive brakes technology is starting to show up in many new vehicles this year. Auto manufacturers have been testing new features over the last few years, searching for the optimum features that will make vehicles safer to drive for motorists.

These improvements are changing the way brakes react when a car is in motion, and the variety of additional safety features are helping drivers stay safer and avoid collisions on the road.

Forward Collision Warnings

One such feature is a forward collision warning, which uses radars and cameras installed in the front of the vehicle to identify objects or other cars that are suddenly within close range of its path. Several audible or physical warnings - lights or chimes on the instrument display panel or a vibration in the steering wheel or driver's seat, for example - notify the driver of the need for a hard stop.

If the driver does not react in time or doesn't brake hard enough, some systems will apply an automatic brake assist to help avoid or reduce the impact of a collision. Some automakers have taken further measures to install similar systems for blind spots that a driver can't see, or when backing out of a space where a view of oncoming traffic from either direction is impaired.

Lane Departure Warnings

A similar safety feature called a lane departure warning is designed to notify drivers who are either distracted or falling asleep at the wheel when the car deviates beyond lane markings on the road. Here, the camera and sensor record a driving pattern while the car is moving and alerts the driver with an audio warning when the car deviates from that pattern for no apparent reason.

The system typically works in tandem with rear view and side mirrors, showing a blinking cursor on the mirror and the front display, to go along with the audible signal to alert the driver.

Anti-Lock Brakes

The first "advanced" automotive brakes employed anti-lock systems that allowed drivers to retain traction and steering control when braking suddenly, either on wet surfaces or due to sudden obstacle. Here, a driver's reaction time and behavior is still a factor, since they must brake hard, stay on the brake to fully actuate the system, then steer away from the danger.

By applying steady brake pressure, the system will pulse the automotive brakes to allow the tires to regain traction enough to minimize the impact or avoid a collision altogether. A speed sensor monitors the car at all times, looking for a rapid deceleration in the wheels as a signal to apply the anti-lock assistance.

Predictive Brake Assist

Predictive braking is another modern concept that works in tandem with an advanced Cruise Control system to maintain a safe distance between vehicles automatically. If the system senses a hard stop will be necessary, it prepares brake components in advance to apply enough power to stop the vehicle in the shortest distance possible.

These innovations in automotive brakes will save countless lives by eliminating a margin of error when brakes are not applied quickly enough or hard enough to minimize the impact of a life-threatening collision, or eliminate one altogether.

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